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Sustainable hospitality gets green light

Green or environmentally friendly hotels are all the rage right now. And for good reason, too. Our environment needs a course correction and hotels, as leaders of the community, must be examples for others to follow. That, and more consumers are actively seeking out green properties when selecting their business or leisure accommodation.

So, how do you start this process? What guidelines do you follow? What can you possibly implement on a rigorously tight budget? To briefly touch on the subject, I connected with Dagmar Ebaugh, the PR and Communications Manager at UL Environment, an independent safety science company whose mission is to advance the recognition of sustainable products and drive purchaser clarity by bringing trusted transparency to the green marketplace.

Straight to the point, why should hotels care about sustainability?

In the very aggressive hospitality market, it can be challenging for a property to differentiate itself from the competition. Recently, many hotels have jumped on the ‘green’ bandwagon in hopes of attracting more guests. But what does it really mean to be ‘green’ and how can a hotel successfully implement and market its sustainable aspects?  How can a hotel property know what constitutes genuine sustainability and what is just marketing-speak? Finally, what is the best way for a hotel to effectively communicate its sustainable attributes? There are valid concerns over greenwashing, and the FTC is vigilant about following up on unsubstantiated or vague ‘green’ claims.

While sustainability can have broad definitions, it is often encapsulated in the concept of Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet and Profits). This means that sustainable businesses work to manage a profitable business and operate in a socially responsible manner, while at the same time reducing the human health and environmental impact of their operations.

Hotels should care about green hospitality because it’s what their customers say they want – 47% of business travelers prefer to stay at green hotels according to Timetric’s 2013 Global Business Traveler Survey. Additionally, a 2010 Travelocity survey noted that travelers consistently rated green hotels higher than their non-green counterparts.

What are some steps hotels can take to better appeal to guests?

Some well-known steps taken to ‘green’ a hotel include reducing waste by implementing effective onsite recycling or reuse programs; sourcing environmentally preferable as opposed to conventional goods; conserving energy via the use of smart thermostats; energy-efficient appliances and toilets; sensor-triggered lighting; and managing water use. All of these can save money as well as demonstrate a commitment to reducing negative environmental impacts of a hotel’s operation.

However, there is also research that shows that even though the general traveler might say s/he cares about the environmental impact, s/he is still reluctant to give up clean towels, high-pressure showers and other amenities expected from a quality hotel. ‘Green guests’ – those who are apt to still pay attention to the environment even when not directly paying for energy and cleaning costs – are often challenging to identify.

In order to attract the broadest spectrum of possible guests, a hotel must therefore highlight both its environmentally friendly activities as well as those that inform a customer of the healthy aspects of a stay at the property. There are some less-visible but very impactful ways to make a hotel more sustainable. Starting at the initial materials selection for a new or renovated building, hotels can demonstrate to their guests that they have a health and environmental sustainability mindset.

Selecting materials third-party certified to limit health impacts is one way to create a greener hotel from the ground up. GREENGUARD Certified materials can also qualify for LEED points, and hotels carrying the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification are increasingly in demand.  According to the USGBC, in 2012, there were 141 LEED-certified hotels, with an additional 1,200 that were registered with intent to certify upon completion of construction.

But that’s for new properties. What about those already built?

Once a property is built, it is important to ensure that the operations and maintenance of a property also follow sustainability guidelines: properly train staff in safe cleaning methods; sourcing certifiably environmentally preferable products (such as ECOLOGO Certified cleaning materials); and sanitary paper supplies. Interior elements should also be selected with visitors’ health, as well as the environment, in mind. Certified items to look for include furnishings (including mattresses), appliances and electronics.

What about marketing?

The smartest way to market a healthier, more sustainable hotel is to showcase the trusted, scientifically-backed eco-labels and certifications carried by the materials and supplies used to build, furnish and maintain the property. Hotel management should review the FTC Green Guides for guiding principles on accurately making and marketing green claims. Applying for membership in TripAdvisor’s Green Leaders program will provide Travelocity’s users information on a hotel’s sustainability practices.

By researching options and implementing some of the above-mentioned sustainable practices, it is possible to build and operate a healthier, more sustainable hotel property that will attract and retain travelers for years to come.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on February 19, 2014)

Larry MogelonskySustainable hospitality gets green light